Happy Birthday Sam Neill, 70 today
It’s hard to imagine the entertainment landscape without Sam Neill.
He may have migrated with his family to the South Island seven years after his birth in Northern Ireland, but he’s as Kiwi as they come. From branching out into the world of wine via Two Paddocks, to hilarious pictures of him with his animals down on his farm via being vocal about his community and cinema, he’s an all-round good guy that’s as much an institution as L&P and Rocky Road.
The great man turns 70 today, and is currently filming, while his latest film Sweet Country premieres in Toronto at the International Film Festival. And in just a couple of weeks’ time, we’ll get to see him in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.
In honour of his birthday and in celebration of his versatility and personality, here’s looking back at some of his greatest roles to date. There’s plenty to choose from – be it The Piano or the much under-rated Dean Spanley, to his TV work, the back catalogue spills over with choice. Here are four moments we loved.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
It was a fairly ridiculous premise, when you stepped back and thought about it, but who wasn’t cowering in their seats when we were transported to the island of Isla Nubar and Laura Dern and our Sam peered out of that jeep and realised that those dinosaurs were real and very large?
In that moment his delighted awe was every one of us in the audience, stunned at the audacity of Hollywood. Spot on work, Sam.
SLEEPING DOGS (1977)
One of Roger Donaldson’s first movies, and one of Neill’s earliest iconic roles, Neill was pivotal as the recluse pulled into a fight with the Government.
But there’s nothing more impressive and singularly burned into the collective consciousness than when he pulled the defiant finger in the final scene as the police threaten to gun him down.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016)
Old Hec was as dry as a pile of kiln-dried firewood, so those lighter moments where he broke type and cracked a smile were particular highlights of Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
There was that touching final scene with Julian Dennison’s Ricky outside the halfway house, his pained expressions as Rima Ti Wiata wields a stylophone with menace for her Ricky Baker song, but a real comedic standout was when Hec finds himself brawling with Stan Walker, Mike Minogue and Cohen Holloway in a DOC hut in the middle of nowhere after they accuse him of child molestation.
The brilliant Australian black comedy Rake managed to attract big-name guest stars, and persuade them to play some fairly unsavoury types.
Martin Henderson was cast as an egotistical Julian Assange-esque guru, Hugo Weaving played a quietly-spoken cannibal, but none took to their cameos with such aplomb as Neill, who played a distinguished family man charged with having sexual relations with the family dog.
One classic moment involved Neill, his screen wife and the pooch inside the bedroom, and yet he managed to imbue his unfortunate character with a surprising level of dignity.
Perhaps his greatest role though is off screen.
Over the past few years, it’s become de rigeur for Mr Neill to show his affection for his co-stars by choosing animal names for the various creatures inhabiting his land down on his Otago lifestyle block. From Taika the pig to Helena Bonham-Carter the cow, the man’s heart is clearly packed full of humour and warmth.
Rā Whānau hari, Sam!